The Cost of Being a Vendor at a Food Festival

My boyfriend and I made a big move at the beginning of this year from Los Angeles to Cleveland for a job promotion I received at work. He’d gotten into making ice cream while we were in California—we had even tossed around the idea of starting our own business, but the task was daunting and the costs seemed prohibitive.

Due to the move, we are currently living rent-free with his mom while he looks for employment. Given my salary bump and the lower cost of living, it seemed like a good time to take a risk, so we started Mason’s Creamery, our ice cream business. We decided to target food festivals and farmer’s markets because:

1. The initial costs are lower than it would be to rent a storefront or go the food truck route.
2. It’s about to be summer! People love food festivals and farmer’s markets in the summer, right?
3. That’s pretty much it.

In March, we applied, and somehow finagled our way into an upcoming festival in Cleveland that will happen in May. We were also recently accepted to the downtown Cleveland Farmer’s Market, and will continue to apply to others around the area. This way, we hope to get our name out and eventually segue into something less booth-like. For anyone curious about the costs of starting a very small business, or the costs of a festival (because you love festivals in the summer), here’s the rundown:

 

Pre-Festival:
- $120, one-time: Business incorporation for the state of Ohio, with which we can now procure our EIN (free of charge!).
- $299/year: Liability insurance—we used Food Insurance Liability Program (FLIP). FLIP covers food vendors at festivals and farmer’s market at a much lower cost than actual food insurers. The $299 we paid is the lowest rate, which is based on sales numbers. Our sales are $0.
- $25, one-time: Transient vendor’s license for the state of Ohio, which will need to be renewed yearly but paid only once.
- $15/every three years: Online food safety course called ServSafe, a national food safety certification.
- $160, one-time: Food vendor license and placard for the city of Cleveland.

 

Festival (Two Days):
- $640: Festival food both with temporary food permit, which is comprised of $40 for the temporary food permit, $10 for the booth set-up and $590 for…well, we’re not sure, but we paid it. General festivities? This was a lot steeper than we had expected, but the festival had 40,000 people in attendance last year, and we know there were a limited number of ice cream vendors, so it seemed like a good way to debut in Cleveland.
- $50: We need to rent electricity for our freezer.
- $75: We bought a quarte-page ad in the pamphlet the festival will be handing out, because after the first $690, the $75 seemed like a bargain.
- $215: The aforementioned freezer was purchased used from Craigslist. There’s a few rust stains on it, but otherwise it is in good condition. If the ice cream business fails, we will start hoarding food in the freezer for the eventual zombie apocalypse.
- $20/hour: We will be renting a commercial kitchen in preparation for the festival. We’re not sure how long we’ll need, but that’s the going rate.

 

So far, we’ve spent $1,599, and that’s not counting the actual ingredients for the ice cream we’ve been testing, kitchen rental time, and all the incidental goods we will need to purchase, such as napkins, cones, cups, spoons, business cards, trash bags, etc. Thankfully, someone in my boyfriend’s family has a trailer, which we’ll use to lug around the freezer, and which can easily cost up to $800 for a new one.

We plan on charging $3.50 for one scoop and $5.00 for two small-ish scoops of ice cream at the festival, and hope to break even from that. After the festival on May 18-19, we’d love to come back and provide an update of how much we spent and how much we’ve made.

 

Helen Qin lives and works in a non-ice-cream-related industry in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @masonscreamery. In the meantime, Mason’s Creamery can be found in a suburban kitchen in Cleveland, Ohio and at masonscreamery.com. We love and appreciate all advice, criticisms, feedback, at jesse@masonscreamery.com.

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24 Comments / Post A Comment

Lily (#3,106)

As a Clevelander, I’d suggest looking into the North Union farmer’s market in Shaker as well. The only ice cream I remember seeing there is made by an Amish family, and as I recall, they’re only usually there in late summer (when they serve the ice cream with fresh peaches, which may actually be my definition of heaven).

You should also look into Walnut Wednesdays and other food truck roundups during the summer!

Yay for the Cleveland food scene!

@Lily Thank you! We are definitely looking into that, but the NU farmer’s market is pretty strict with regards to where the ingredients are sourced – we are in contact with local dairy farms, but there are rules regarding the exact distance you can procure milk, cream, eggs, etc. from, and it looks like there are some stuff we have to produce on our own no matter what. We will apply and hope for the best though.

Googling Walnut Wednesdays as we speak…thanks for the heads up.

Seriously though, the Cleveland food scene has been so amazing and SO welcoming. We are excited to be here!

cminor (#3,400)

@the melon@twitter I actually work for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (The people who put on Walnut Wednesdays). We do events all the time with food trucks and vendors, my boss is super nice, I’ll email you her contact info (I’m just the graphic designer.)

@cminor Yes please! jesse@masonscreamery.com is my partner in crime (and also a graphic designer, so I love ‘em). Thank you so much!

cminor (#3,400)

@the melon@twitter I’m actually really excited that the Billfold crossed into my real world in an business-y type way. It feels weirdly validating.

joyballz (#2,000)

@cminor ^^^^^^ this is all making me so happy right now. :D

Marzipan (#1,194)

@Lily I’m like totally weirdly giddy that Cleveland is being mentioned. I love ice cream and will totally support this! Which festival is this? I want to go there!

@Marzipan It’s the Cleveland Asian Festival 5/18-5/19. Please come if you can!

julebsorry (#1,572)

Holy cow! Thanks for this article – this was really interesting. I would NEVER have guessed that it could cost over $1500 just to set up an ice cream booth at a festival. I know some costs were also to hopefully keep the business running past the festival..but still. This was really eye-opening – I’m going to complain much less about food prices at farmer’s markets now.

@julebsorry The costs at farmer’s markets are pretty interesting too. To have a booth, it’s usually the greater of a flat fee or % of sales + a deposit for the booth rental. For the most part, the application is free, but there is a farmer’s market around here that charges a $50 fee just to apply! It’s like college again…

@the melon@twitter Also, it’s weird because on one hand, $1,500 isn’t that much at all for most new business, but on the other hand, we totaled it up and were kind of surprised, too.

limenotapple (#1,748)

This is really interesting, and good luck! It also gives some insight to consumers as to why the pricing for the end product is what it is. I can’t wait for the update.

@limenotapple Thank you! One of the reasons I wanted to write this article (and also duh, free & awesome publicity) is because I’ve always wondered about the costs and growth of small businesses…it’s like, “oh we started this little business in our little kitchen…and now we’re selling to Whole Foods!”

What the heck happened in between?!? So curious.

Obviously we’re not quite there, but baby steps…and we’re happy to share as many steps on our journey as we can.

fake coffee snob (#2,227)

@the melon@twitter If you’re interested in that, I love the quinn popcorn blog – they now do sell to whole foods, and blogged the whole way there.
http://www.quinnpopcorn.com/blog-tile/blog-list/

@fake coffee snob Just checked it out (so well-written) and will probably spend part of the wkend reading through the archives. Thanks for the rec – I remember reading something about a boba start-up awhile ago, but it was more like, this is how we came up with the idea, market research, etc., the end.

oiseau (#1,830)

As a person that comes up with random business ideas all the time, I am super looking forward to the update! Good luck! More articles like these, please – experiments documented for the general public!

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@oiseau Yes to all of that! This was great and I would love to hear more!

Betsy (#3,636)

I’m acting out of pure, ice-cream-loving self-interest, but you might also want to check out the Shaker Heights small business incentive program: http://work-live-shakerheights.com/incentives/

Welcome to Cleveland!

@Betsy Thank you and we will! I really like Shaker Heights, it’s one of the neighborhoods we’ve been looking at moving into eventually.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Congrats and I love ice cream! We have a place here with your similar story–they went the food truck route, though. Amazing ice cream, built up a great following, had a kickstarter to help fund a brick and mortar and said brick and mortar opened last week! Their prices are similar to yours and they’re local and home made etc. etc. I’ve been twice (it is like two blocks from where I work) and it has been PACKED both times, and every time I walk by it is also packed, so I am happy for them! Good luck to you–I have family in Ohio and it is an ice cream friendly place so I hope you do well!

@TheDilettantista That’s great!! Ice cream is an universal good, glad to hear they’re doing well.

I grew up in Texas and lived in California, and Cleveland has definitely been the most ice-cream loving place I’ve seen. Good people, man.

kellyography (#250)

Definitely look forward to an update. Good luck!

419fni (#3,485)

Great article, please provide an update!

Is there a different page for the update? Really curious after over a year later where the couple is at. congratulations for the exciting venture you’ve experienced!

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